Published February 28, 2013
DUNWOODY—The Atlanta Guild of the Catholic Medical Association recently held its 18th annual program on Saturday, Feb. 2, at All Saints Church. More than 50 physicians and health professionals were in attendance.
With a focus on end-of-life issues, the program featured a presentation by Cory Andrew Labrecque, Ph.D., the Raymond F. Schinazi Junior Scholar in Bioethics and Religious Thought at the Center for Ethics at the Emory School of Medicine.
Labrecque, an expert on bioethical issues in the geriatric patient, addressed the issue of artificial nutrition and hydration and how it fits into the Roman Catholic tradition.
“Feeding in Jesus’ ministry is central,” said Labrecque, citing scriptural events such as Jesus feeding the large crowd and the Last Supper.
Labrecque also quoted Matthew 25:35—“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink”—but then asked the crowd, “What happens when the hungry person is unconscious, or comatose, or in a vegetative state?”
The issue of artificial nutrition and hydration is complicated, and the Catholic Church does not provide a one-size-fits-all solution, Labrecque said. Instead, Catholics must be well versed in church teaching and look at the context of each situation to discern which action is the most in line with the faith.
“This is not relativistic,” but rather it is contextual, said Labrecque. “It is about being attentive to context. … We actually care about the state of the patient and of what’s happening around that patient. And that’s why this is such a difficult scenario because the church does not highlight” specific contextual parameters.
Labrecque feels the Catholic Church’s ambiguity on this topic is appropriate since the people who are directly involved with each patient would have a better idea of the context of each situation.
In order to be able to face these scenarios in true faith, one must know what the church teaches, for we can all face these situations as Catholics.
“At the end of the day we see ourselves as healers in any tradition,” he said to the crowd of physicians. “Healers and teachers like us are called to be ‘awake.’”